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Thu, May 25, 2000 - Page 3 News List

Legislators debate welfare plan

HEFTY BILL President Chen Shui-bian's welfare plan is set to kick off July 1. Now the government has to dig up the estimated NT$6 billion for the first six months

By Monique Chu and Stephanie Low  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Although the new government has promised to give senior citizens 65 years of age and older a NT$3,000 monthly subsidy starting July 1, meeting this financial obligation could create problems, legislators warned yesterday.

In two legislative committee meetings yesterday, legislators questioned newly inaugurated officials over measures to raise the money to fulfill the proposed "333 family welfare program" (三三三安家福利專案) put forward by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) during his campaign.

The elderly pension has been given priority by the new government and is set to take effect on July 1. As a result, the plan will involve adjusting the central government budget for this fiscal year, which is to last until December 31, 2000.

The Ministry of Finance has proposed three options to deal with the financial demand. These include adjusting the existing budget allocations for social welfare spending, drawing money from the government reserve fund -- the so-called "secondary reserve" (第二預備金), and raising an additional budget proposal for the new program.

Drawing on the reserve fund has been considered by the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS) as the most feasible option. Most legislators, however, were strongly against this solution, which they argued is unlawful and has been raised "for convenience's sake."

"The reserve fund is intended to cope with provisional spending, rather than a new continuous policy," said KMT legislator Eric Chu (朱立倫). "Does the government plan to issue the old-age pension for one month only?"

Chu pointed out that the Budget Law only allows the Executive Yuan to draw money from the secondary reserve fund to cope with "contingent demands of policy" that require additional programs and funding, which does not include a new policy.

"333" Family Welfare Program

* Item 1

NT$3,000 monthly subsidies for persons above 65 years old.

Annual estimated budget: NT$15.3 billion.

Estimated beneficiaries: 425,000 citizens. (1.44 million elderly citizens who have received other government subsidies are excluded.)

* Item 2

Free medical service for children three years old and younger.

Annual estimated budget: NT$2 billion.

Annual estimated beneficiaries: 1,183,000.

* Item 3

Three percent interest rates for first-time homebuyers.

Annual estimated budget: NT$6.7 billion for the first year.

Annual estimated beneficiaries: 100,000 households.

Note: Chart based on Ministry of Finance estimates. The Council for Economic Planning and Development is currently reviewing four proposals regarding the program. The final version is pending.

DPP legislator Lin Chung-cheng (林忠正) said the secondary reserve fund should be saved for emergency situations as the typhoon season is not far away.

"If the reserve fund is to be spent on the pension scheme, we may not have any money left to deal with the potentially serious damage caused by a catastrophe," Lin warned.

Both Chu and Lin said the Executive Yuan should submit an additional budget proposal to the legislature for the scheme so as not to create the impression that the new government is trying to shy away from the legislature's supervision.

Independent legislator Hsu Tain-tsair (許添財), however, said an additional budget could have problems being passed in the legislature, since the KMT still controls the majority of legislative seats.

Responding to the legislators' doubts, DGBAS director-general Lin Chuan (林全) said passing an additional budget proposal will take some time and may not meet the schedule of the policy.

Lin argued that it is completely lawful to finance the elderly pension program with the reserve fund.

"Since the policy was raised by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) during the campaign, a contingency that requires additional spending has occurred since the policy is to be implemented in this fiscal year," Lin said.

Lin said this is a contingent demand on the policy, adding that the policy will become continuous in the second year when the budget will be needed on a regular basis.

Lin said while there is still a balance of NT$8.4 billion in the reserve fund, the elderly pension program will need an estimated NT$6 billion during the first six months of its implementation.

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